Nine Inch Nails Bring Arena Sized Energy and Rage to New York City’s Webster Hall
Since the mid '90s, Nine Inch Nails have undeniably been an arena band. Few acts have bled and worked as hard as Trent Reznor has since picking up his first synthesizer in Mercer, Pa. while in high school. He's taken small-town rage and otherness and transformed it into something global, a huge sound that propelled Nine Inch Nails to become the biggest industrial band ever. Their live show is an ever-evolving spectacle of lights and video elements, creating a forward-thinking experience beyond what their contemporaries were capable of.
Nine Inch Nails' 2017 has mostly been a series of festival dates across the U.S., allowing a proper setting for their stage production. In recent interviews, Reznor has spoken about their approach for this run of tour dates, dialing back some of the video elements in favor of lights that accentuate them playing. Their most recent festival date was this past Sunday, July 30 where they closed out New York City's Panorama festival. It came as a surprise to many the morning after that the band would be playing a second time in New York City, this time at the comparably intimate Webster Hall.
Eight hours after the show was announced and subsequently sold out, hundreds made their way to Webster Hall. Earlier in July it was announced Webster Hall would be closing for renovations, making Nine Inch Nails' appearance all the more special. The sudden announcement of the show brought a variety of fans of all ages and subculture to the show, a visual diagram of how Reznor's music has affected and continues to affect listeners of all stripe.
Before NIN would take the stage, opener Tobacco were out to warm up the crowd. The psych-electronic duo were an interesting and cool pick for the show. They stood atop a light wall spelling out their name with various videos phasing in and out of their logo. On the surface, Tobacco sounds sonically pretty far away from the industrial gloom of Nine Inch Nails, opting for shimmering electronic work one can zone out to. But they intersected moments of uncomfortable noise in their songs, creating a highly textured and vibrant kind of electronic sound, one that surprised many in attendance. The group certainly turned some heads and won over the crowd.
Afterwards, production began to set up for NIN's arrival onstage. Fog machines started firing off, coating the stage and audience in a thick cloud of smoke. Lights from above and from behind the stage cast everyone in a blue light, building up tension for the show while a trance track thumped. Eventually the music was killed and the crowd roared to life as keyboardist Atticus Ross and guitarist Robin Finck took their stations. The two began to play the opening chords to The Fragile's "Somewhat Damaged." The cloud of fog grew and obscured the stage, making Trent Reznor's appearance at his microphone all the more exciting.
"Somewhat Damaged's" chuggier midsection sent the entire crowd into a frenzy, everyone pushing themselves to the front of the crowd. Regardless of age, the entire floor was bouncing from people jumping up and down to the grooves of the song. It was an unexpected addition to the set list the first date of the tour they brought it out. From there, they transitioned into The Slip's "1,000,000," another first for the tour. The electronics of the 2008 track still sounded as fresh as ever, the killer chorus keeping the pace up for the bouncing crowd. Joy turned to exuberant rage for concertgoers when "March of the Pigs" kicked in, the tightly packed crowd finding ways to open up pits to shove each other through.
In these first three songs, it became readily apparent why this would be a Nine Inch Nails show to remember. The 1200-capacity room was charged with an energy one wouldn't normally get from an arena or festival setting. The extremely rare chance to see NIN in such a small space pushed the crowd to act as wild as possible, screaming along to every single song the band played. It seemed to be a collective desire to make the show as memorable as possible, attendees long retired from their days in the pit choosing to forgo all pretensions and pogo around to the music.
The joy in the crowd extended to the stage. Trent Reznor was noticeably grinning and laughing through much of the set, taking in the energy the crowd gave back to him. "Sorry for f-king up your Monday night," he said in between songs with a smirk. Reznor was energized and excited, his voice sounding better than ever, his body moving along to the music, getting lost in it himself.
The night was well-paced, heavier and faster songs broken up by their more atmospheric work like a science. Their set list covered a good amount of ground from their career, taking songs from nearly every album. It all meshed well together, old and new pulling different elements out of each other for a poignant setlist. Discography staple "Closer" featured an interpolation of Pretty Hate Machine's "The Only Time," giving it an even dancier edge. It lead into their brand new "Less Than" perfectly, showing their congruence in songwriting and electronics after all this time.
The night also featured the live debut of "She's Gone Away," previously confined to their EP Not the Current Events and to the city limits of Twin Peaks. Live, the song brought all the moodiness and strangeness from the original, the rest of the group becoming a strange backing chorus through the entire thing. The rest of the set veered on the heavier side, which translated to the intimate setting well. For "Burn," the lights went dark completely during its heaviest part, sending the crowd into a blind mosh into each other. On "Reptile," fans took great glee in stomping along with the loud metallic chugs of the song.
NIN wrapped the night up with two of their most energetic and heavy. "Wish" sounded as furious as it did on the Broken EP, each member playing thunderously hard while the crowd moved like ocean currents knocking into one another. The night closed on a loud note, the anthemic and angry "Head Like a Hole" joining the whole crowd in yelling sing along. They ended it there, no encore, leaving "Hurt" off the set, and ending things on a high note.
For many in attendance, they wouldn't hesitate to call it the greatest show they'd ever been to, without exaggeration. The unusually small room allowed for a way different take on the music than one would normally get. "I miss playing rooms like this," Reznor said near the end of the set. "We've got some more shows this year, but we'll be playing a lot more next year," he promised. The energy was palpable from show start to finish, infecting the crowd, reiterating Nine Inch Nails' status as one of the most important bands of all time.
See select pictures from the show above, and fan-shot video footage below.
Nine Inch Nails Webster Hall Setlist July 30, 2017
1. Somewhat Damaged (Tour debut)
2. 1,000,000 (Tour debut)
3. March of the Pigs
5. The Frail
6. The Wretched
7. Sanctified (Tour debut, with "Sunspots" interpolation)
8. Closer (with "The Only Time" interpolation)
9. Less Than
12. Gave Up
13. She's Gone Away (Live debut)
14. The Lovers
16. The Loop Closes (How to Destroy Angels cover)
17. The Great Destroyer
18. Burning Bright (Field on Fire)
20. Head Like a Hole
See Fan-Shot Footage From Nine Inch Nails' Webster Hall Show Below
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